The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says it is deeply concerned for the safety of people detained at the Mantra Bell City hotel at Preston in Melbourne, after a security guard has tested positive for COVID-19
Over 60 people, who were brought to Australia from offshore detention for medical care, have been held in makeshift detention facilities at the hotel since their arrival. This week, one of the security guards for the facilities has been found to have contracted the virus.
In addition, The Australian Border Force (ABF) yesterday confirmed reports that a number of staff from the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in NSW are self-isolating, having been potentially exposed to the virus at the Crossroads Hotel.
RCOA CEO Paul Power said that the unsuitable conditions in which people are being held now leaves them at imminent risk of infection: “Since the pandemic hit Australia early this year, the government has repeatedly ignored warnings about the safety of the people held in immigration detention facilities. People are sharing rooms and communal facilities and are unable to observe social distancing. They are constantly at risk of contracting the illness from the many staff entering and leaving the facilities.
“At the Mantra alone, it is reported that around 60 people are detained on a single floor, with multiple people to a room and inadequate ventilation. This has long been a disaster waiting to happen, and now that one of the staff has tested positive the possibility of an outbreak is high. These people came here because they were already in need of urgent medical treatment, which was neglected for years in Australia’s offshore facilities. The government has, in many cases, continued to fail to provide this care and on top of this is now knowingly exposing them to a potentially deadly virus.”
RCOA, along with leaders of refugee support services, medical experts and medical peak bodies, has been raising concerns for the safety of people in detention with the government since the pandemic begun. “We have proposed a number of practical solutions to this crisis and repeatedly reminded the Federal Government that it has at its disposal a range of community alternatives to detention,” Mr Power said. “We have shown that many of the people in detention have strong support from family and friends in the community, and worked with a number of NGOs in various states to assure the Government that they would assist and support with transitions.
“We find it completely unacceptable that none of those suggestions were taken on board,” Mr. Power said. “The Department have continued to keep people in crowded facilities and in fact, the detention population has even increased. So far, the only response the Department has offered is that no one in detention has tested positive to COVID-19. This is irresponsible and in breach of Government’s duty of care. Now, this crisis is unfolding as predicted and they are still not taking action.
“This issue is not limited to the Mantra and Villawood facilities. All of the people detained around the country are at risk. We are once again calling on our political leaders to immediately move all people from crowded immigration detention facilities into appropriate community arrangements where they can observe distancing regulations, both for their own safety and for that of the wider community.”
Photo: Refugee Action Collective